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  • Madeline Dressel

Smart Doll Rescue & Restoration: Cigarette Odor

Last month I stumbled over an unbelievable deal for one of our grail dolls, an original "Old Cocoa" Smart Doll Harmony in a Buy-It-Now listing on Ebay. "Old Cocoa" is the collector's term for the first black skin tone produced by Smart Doll. The tone wasn't a hit with buyers since it often takes on a purple hue in photographs, and was quickly discontinued and replaced with the much darker, current cocoa skin tone. Now however, because so few were made and the popularity of the Smart Doll brand has increased astronomically in the last several years,"Old Cocoa" dolls are highly sought after and very difficult to find.

So, we waited eagerly for her arrival and when she did......

......the box looked like this... you can see - she had quite an adventure with the postal service. Despite the box being crushed and partially open, Harmony did manage to make it to us physically unscathed.

However, upon opening removing her packing material, it was obvious that she had been exposed to a seriously intense smoking environment, the cigarette odor completely permeated her. Even her white underwear was yellow due to nicotine staining. We've collected a lot of vintage dolls, many of which were exposed to smoking environments for decades - but this girl, despite only being about 6 years old (she was released 2016) topped them all. I am not even sure how she could possibly have absorbed that much cigarette odor in only 6 years - but she did.

A surface cleaning with dish soap and Twin Pines Formula 911 (our favorite vinyl doll cleaner - seriously the stuff is magic) made absolutely no difference to her odorous presence, so we decided to apply the cleaning and deodorizing techniques that we'd learned from working with vintage vinyl dolls.

One advantage of Smart Dolls over many of the vintage dolls that we've worked with, is that they can be completely disassembled, down to their individual vinyl shell and frame pieces which allows you to perform a much more intensive cleaning than is possible with most dolls. This isn't for the faint of heart, disassembling a Smart Doll, requires heat to soften the vinyl and a fair amount of force to pry the assembled pieces apart. Combine that with the rarity (if something gets damaged during the process no replacement parts are likely to be found) nudges the anxiety factor up by several orders of magnitude.

Harmony Disassembled

Malachi is a master of Smart Doll assembly and disassembly, so he confidently took on the challenge and in no time - Harmony was reduced to an assortment of tiny pieces.

If you ever need to disassemble a Smart Doll, we recommend keeping the right and left pieces separated, as it will make the reassembly process much easier. We also recommend that you place the screws that match to each frame piece together because different sections of the frame can use different size screws For each of the steps that followed, we kept the the frame and vinyl pieces separated to avoid intermixing them during the treatment steps.

The pieces of the frame and vinyl absorb the cigarette odor differently. The softer the plastic, the more odiferous it remained due to it more easily absorbing the nicotine and tar chemicals. The frame, which is made of hard plastic polyoxymethylene was the faintest, and the soft vinyl bust and headcap were the most affected.

Because the spine is not easily disassembled and can trap water inside we did NOT soak the spine during any of the following steps - it was surface cleaned only. We also did not soak or immerse the eyes or any of the screws (which were removed to disassemble the frame).

1. To start, each piece of the frame and vinyl shell scrubbed (inside and out) in hot soapy water with a tooth brush, followed by a second scrub with Formula 911 and left in the sun for several hours to dry. Although the surface of the pieces were cleaner to the touch after this, it didn't significantly affect the odor.

2. For the second step, we applied a technique we learned from the Playpal doll community to help remove absorbed nicotine odor and staining from the vinyl: the "vaseline treatment." Now, there is a lot of concern within the doll community that vaseline will adversely affect vinyl. This is where it helps to have a Ph.D. in chemistry (which I do). A brief exposure of un-damaged vinyl several hours isn't going to have an adverse affect. The vaseline treatment is used to help remove the absorbed nicotine from the vinyl itself. The vinyl parts are slathered with a coating of vaseline (I coated the parts on the outside and as much as I could reach on the inside). Then, the parts are left in the sun for several hours. As the vinyl warms up, the nicotine migrates into the vaseline. After a day in the sun, wipe the remaining vaseline off, then re-coat and repeat.

Vinyl Shell Pieces Undergoing the Vaseline Treatment

The process can be repeated multiple days in a row until the staining and odor is diminished. We did one day of vaseline treatment on the vinyl shell pieces (we did NOT treat the frame with vaseline as it is a different type of plastic). Then, the vinyl was scrubbed with Formula 911 (inside and out) and rinsed thoroughly with rubbing alcohol to remove any residual traces of vaseline. After this treatment, the hard vinyl (everything except the bust and head cap) were noticeably improved. The soft vinyl bust and head cap, which are much more nicotine absorbent smelled still smelled strongly. We could have continued repeating the vaseline treatments, but it works best on warm sunny days - and the next several days were forecast to rain.

3. Both the frame and vinyl shell pieces were soaked in vinegar solution overnight (probably 30-50% solution, but I didn't measure it).

4. After the vinegar soak, all the pieces were again scrubbed in hot soapy water and allowed to dry in the sun.

5. Then frame pieces were soaked in a saturated solution of baking soda. The vinyl pieces were then sealed in Tupperware containers containing dry baking soda and everything was allowed to sit for two days (we left them over the weekend). After the baking soda treatment, everything was again cleaned and scrubbed with hot soapy water. The frame pieces after this step no longer had a discernible odor - YAY!

Frame parts (separated by right and left) are soaking in a saturated solution of baking soda. The vinyl pieces are sealed in containers of baking soda.

After the baking soda treatment, At this point in the process the frame pieces had no remaining unpleasant odor, and were dried and set aside.

6. We elected to do one more vaseline treatment on the vinyl pieces since the weather was cooperating (warm and sunny). A layer of vaseline was applied to the outside, and as much as was accessible on the inside, and remained in the sun for several hours. The vaseline was then wiped off each piece(most of it melts and pools in the tray anyways - taking the excess nicotine with it). Everything was scrubbed in hot water with dish soap followed by Formula 911then rinsed off with rubbing alcohol.

At this point, the coloring was much improved. The original purple tint was more visible as a lot of the yellow tint from the nicotine had been removed. There was still some residual odor (again, more intense from the bust and head cap) but now, but no longer wafting through the room!

7. The final treatment that I wanted to try is one that I learned from My Little Pony Restoration, which is to soak the vinyl in a solution of hot OxiClean. I thought about trying the method used by vintage Barbie collectors to remove stains from vintage Barbie heads (soaking in a water with a denture cleaner tablet) but ultimately I decided that the OxiClean would have better odor eliminating properties. Although, it is generally safe on paint, I consulted with a friend that does a lot of Pony restoration and she confirmed that in some cases it can fade the paint. Therefore, I elected NOT to soak Harmony's head in OxiClean.

I added a scoop or two of the OxiClean powder to scalding hot water and soaked all of the vinyl pieces (minus the head) for two hours. The pieces were then, as always, scrubbed with dish soap followed by Formula 911, then they were left to dry in the sun.

8. Success! After the series of treatments above the cigarette smell was essentially eliminated from the frame and the harder vinyl parts. The head cap and bust still had a faint odor of cigarette, but only if you really put your face into them and took a deep whiff (we expect this to fade away completely over time).

9. What about the wig and clothes? Harmony's clothing (white underwear set and denim shorts) was relatively easy to clean - I simply soaked them overnight in a solution of Oxi-Clean and Woolite detergent (I kept the denim shorts separated from her underwear to avoid dye bleeding) then they were hung up to dry.

Her wig was a little more difficult. First, I washed it thoroughly with dish soap, Formula 911, then soaked it in vinegar and dried it in the sun. It still smelled strongly of cigarette odor, so I allowed it to soak in a saturated solution of baking soda overnight, before washing it again in dish soap and rinsing thoroughly. That did the trick - no more odor and the clean fibers regained their shine.

After everything was dry, she was handed back over to Malachi to be reassembled.

.....And here she is! She's kicked the smoking habit, and can safely join the rest of the crew!

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